Friday, June 22, 2018

Home tests, better scores

Kenny Sweeney struggled through his sophomore year of English. In his first semester, he earned an F; in his second, a D.

Most Springstead High School students in that situation would be required to take the course again, either online or in the classroom.

But Kenny, the son of Hernando School Board member John Sweeney, got a special deal: He was allowed to take a series of four tests to replace a year's worth of course work.

He took the tests at home on two days in October. He earned C's, though the grades were entered into school records as B's, according to documents obtained by tbt*.

Details of the case, including the involvement of John Sweeney, have recently come under scrutiny by district officials. The district has opened an investigation, though Sweeney is not the primary focus because he is an elected official and not a district employee.

The questions began earlier this school year.

After a conversation with Kenny's parents, school district officials decided that he could try to improve his grades by taking a test through an online credit-recovery program known as CompassLearning Odyssey .

The option is not generally available to Springstead students, though it has been used previously by struggling students in Hernando. In this case, Kenny's scores would be used to replace his previous grades, according to district records.

Springstead principal Susan Duval, who declined to comment for this story because of the ongoing investigation, said the test would need to be taken at the school to ensure it was administered appropriately, records show.

In early October, Duval sent a message to Kenny's parents, saying he would be given the test the following week.

A few days later, however, Duval learned that Kenny, now a senior, already had taken the test after someone had given him or his parents secure information about how to access the CompassLearning website. That information was also shared with Tim Urban, the principal at Endeavor Academy, the district's alternative school, although it is unclear why or how Urban became involved.

Urban, citing the open investigation, was instructed not to comment.

Kenny took the test at home on Oct. 11 and 12.

He scored a 78.5 percent for the first semester's work and a 76.5 percent for the second, according to district documents. Both grades are considered C's.

On Dec. 18, Duval received a grade-change form for Kenny's English class. It was signed by Urban and hand delivered by John Sweeney.

The form indicated that Kenny's grade was to be increased from 27 percent to 80 percent for the first semester and from 67 percent to 81 percent for the second — both B's — according to district documents.

On Jan. 28, Springstead officials got another grade-change form signed by Urban. This one changed the class from English 2 to English 2 Honors, giving the course greater weight and improving Kenny's high school grade-point average.

Once again, the form was hand-delivered to Duval by John Sweeney.

But another problem arose.

The tests Kenny took were not for an honors-level class.

Duval asked for a "rigor analysis" of the exam Kenny had taken to determine whether it met the requirements of an honors course. It did not.

During the analysis, Duval also learned that Kenny's scores were actually C's rather than B's.

Concluding that the grades and course name were inaccurate, Duval authorized school staffers to change the grades back to C's.

And they were recorded for a regular English course — not an honors course.

John Sweeney, who is seeking a third term this year on the School Board, did not return calls despite multiple messages.

Hernando superintendent Lori Romano said she could not comment on an open investigation involving school personnel. In an emailed statement issued through the district's spokesman, Romano wrote: "It would be highly unethical and illegal for anyone but a student's teacher of record to remove a grade or change a student's grade on a student's official record and/or transcript."

Others with knowledge of the situation also declined to comment on the record.

Bryan Blavatt, who retired this summer as the superintendent of Hernando schools, defended John Sweeney.

At a recent meeting involving district officials, John Sweeney and his wife, Vivian, Blavatt served as a parent advocate. "There are no improprieties relating to this student's grades," Blavatt told tbt*.

Then he expressed concern that district employees would share this type of student information.

"I am very perplexed and upset … when the media is involved in a situation between a student and a parent," Blavatt said. "I'm concerned, to be honest. … I think that basically that's out of bounds."

Comments
On the campaign trail: For Hillsborough County School Board

On the campaign trail: For Hillsborough County School Board

Barring a last-minute adjustment, this is the lineup for the 2018 Hillsborough County School Board races.District 1, northwest Hillsborough and Town 'N Country:This is a special election to replace Susan Valdes, who resigned, effective Nov. 6, to run...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Six candidates qualify to seek Pinellas County Commission seats

Six candidates qualify to seek Pinellas County Commission seats

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections said six candidates completed their qualifying requirements to square off for three seats on the County Commission.Commissioners Pat Gerard and Dave Eggers drew no opponents for their seats. The o...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Florida’s credit rating climbs to highest yet, Moody’s says

Florida’s credit rating climbs to highest yet, Moody’s says

Moody's Investors Service has upgraded the state of Florida's credit rating from Aa1 to Aaa, its highest rating."Ratings at this level are judged to be of the highest quality, with minimal credit risk for bondholders," Moody's said in a statement.The...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Chris Godwin on SiriusXM: Bucs have confidence in backup QBs

Chris Godwin on SiriusXM: Bucs have confidence in backup QBs

Bucs receiver Chris Godwin, who has had as good an offseason as any Tampa Bay player, was on SiriusXM NFL radio for a scheduled interview on Thursday night, talking about a range of subjects, including the news of Jameis Winston's suspension to start...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Candidates qualify for local races in Hernando County

Candidates qualify for local races in Hernando County

In Hernando County, seven candidates qualified Friday to race for seats on the County Commission and School Board — and two won spots on the Brooksville City Council.County CommissionFor the District 2 seat of the commi...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Four Hillsborough school board races, three could go to runoffs

Four Hillsborough school board races, three could go to runoffs

With longtime Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigning to run for the State House, the school board has four seats that are up for grabs this season.A two-way contest between incumbent Melissa Snively and event planner LaShonda ...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Derrick Brooks won’t pursue USF’s AD job

Derrick Brooks won’t pursue USF’s AD job

The local favorite for USF's athletic director job said Friday that he is not a candidate.In a three-paragraph statement, Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks said his commitments to Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School, his charities and fam...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Media to get look inside South Florida facility holding unaccompanied children

Media to get look inside South Florida facility holding unaccompanied children

Journalists from the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and other news organizations were given access Friday morning to a Homestead facility housing unaccompanied migrant children. Journalists were not permitted to bring in cell phones or other video or ...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Newcomers seek to topple incumbents in Pinellas School Board races

Newcomers seek to topple incumbents in Pinellas School Board races

Thirteen candidates will vie for four seats on the Pinellas County School Board this year, with two hopefuls qualifying just before Friday's noon deadline.Three incumbents, including the board's leader and vice chair, aim to keep their seats amid a r...
Updated: 20 minutes ago